Richard E. Merwin Student Scholarship Winner Reveals How You Can Win One, Too
By Aravindhan Anbazhagan
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The IEEE Computer Society Richard E. Merwin Student Scholarship is one of the most prestigious recognitions available for graduate students, and those in the final two years of an undergraduate program in electrical or computer engineering, computer science, or a well-defined computer-related field of engineering who are active members of an IEEE student branch or IEEE Computer Society student branch chapter.
The recipients of the scholarship are recognized with a cash prize of US $1,000 and an opportunity to serve as a regional student ambassador of the IEEE Computer Society. The scholarship is one of the most competitive for student members, so submitting a strong application is important.
I have summed up a few essential tips from my experience and a mentor to many of the winners in the past several years.
Tip #1: Understand the Evaluation Criteria
First and foremost, check the eligibility requirements of the scholarship. Once you have determined that you meet the requirements, take some time to understand the different evaluation criteria of the scholarship. This is important because the scholarship is provided for the “leadership” of applicants, which is holistic in nature.
Letter of Recommendation from the Student Branch Counselor / Chapter Advisor – 20%
Quality of the Student Ambassador Vision statement – 10%
All these criteria should be reflected throughout the application. The application will typically have the following tabs, to capture the information related to the criteria:
About the Nominee
Letters of Recommendation
Tip #2: Prepare the external documentation(s)
The first step is to prepare a document with all your IEEE activities at different levels — you can also feel free to include non-IEEE accomplishments. This is the basic ‘IEEE profile’ which is required when you prepare the external documentation.
When compiling the different information on the application, a few of the following are considered “external,” which will require more time because it involves many different stakeholders:
Academic Transcript – You can get a transcript and acknowledgment from your Institution stating the purpose of the scholarship application.
Primary Letter of Recommendation from the Student Branch Counselor (or) Student Chapter Advisor – You can use your IEEE profile while approaching them for endorsements. If you do not have a Student Branch at your Institution, you can also approach the Section Professional Chapter Chair for an endorsement.
Secondary Letter of Recommendation (Optional) – The evaluation criteria does not allow any points for this, but this can add credibility to your application. Feel free to approach your staff members/mentors/peer volunteers with whom you had an opportunity to work with closely to write an endorsement for your application. If you cannot approach them in person, write a formal email to them about the purpose of the endorsement.
Start working on the external documentation(s) well in advance, at least 2 to 3 weeks ahead of the application deadline anticipating delays.
Tip #3: Answering Applicant Questions
The application is comprised of four sections:
List Leadership Roles in IEEE (and year)
Academic Scholarships or Awards While Enrolled in College/University
Non-IEEE Extracurricular Activities While in College/University
Student Ambassador Vision
The responses to these sections are the key to the application. Hence, please spend adequate time answering these questions. Use your IEEE profile as a reference whenever required.
The first two sections constitute 60% of the weight of your application. Here are some general tips while completing these sections:
Include all your IEEE volunteering leadership roles and activities in reverse chronological order (the activities starting from the recent). You can split them into activities participated / activities volunteered / activities organized
If you are an active volunteer who has not taken up any Officer roles, feel free to include your leadership roles as ‘Volunteer’
Include all your activities along with the impact it has created. Providing sufficient data will be helpful to show the impact
Outline the idea of organizing any activity — it may be an attempt towards a specific problem, you can write it as challenges faced along with your efforts
Academic accomplishments at your University / Institution / Department of study can be highlighted in the second question
While writing about non-IEEE activities, include other club activities and extracurricular activities that demonstrate your leadership.
Tip #4: Drafting a strong ambassador vision statement
The ambassador vision statement carries a weight of 10% of the application and is a crucial element.
Essentially, the vision statement captures the purpose or the “why” of the applicant. As stated initially, the winners of the IEEE Computer Society Richard E. Merwin Student Scholarship will get an opportunity to serve as a regional student ambassador, which is a great opportunity to serve the community of technology leaders.
Keep the following anchor questions in mind while preparing the vision statement:
What are the most common problems/struggles you see across the Student Members / Student Branch Chapters in your Region?
What are some of your ideas/initiatives towards solving the problems?
Why should your ideas be considered for the implementation? What is the sustainability of your ideas? How will it impact the members across the Geographic Region?
The ambassador statement is limited to 1000 words. Discussing 2-3 major initiatives/ideas in detail will be helpful in creating a strong application.
Tip #5: Pacing your application to the timeline
Self-nominations are accepted as part of the application. Hence, it is important to be accountable for the timelines to which you are applying. As suggested, please start working on your external documentation two weeks in advance and spend at least 3-4 days of time for the rest of the documentation.
Finish your application 2-3 days in advance to provide sufficient time for spell checking, rectifying grammatical errors, and going through the application again. There are high chances that you might miss some of your major activities/accomplishments in the first draft — however, allowing time to go through them again will give you a second opportunity to add them.
Once you are confident, finish your application — you will receive an acknowledgment of the response. Then, you can sit back, relax, and wait for the results!
Sometimes you win; sometimes you learn. The application process of the IEEE Computer Society Richard E Merwin Student Scholarship is an experience altogether, and it is worth a try, no matter what the outcome!